By Farhat Taj
Pakistan has been actively pursuing a foreign policy rooted in religious discourse vis-a-vis Afghanistan. This is also because Kabul was pursuing a foreign policy rooted in secular Pashtun ethno-nationalism, including its claims over the Pashtun territory of Pakistan. Secondly, Pakistani army, deeply concerned about its military imbalance vis-a-vis India, does not want a pro-India government in Afghanistan. Thus the nurturing of the Afghan religious figures, displeased by the secular pursuit of the successive governments of Afghanistan, came up as an ideal opportunity in the strategic calculus of the military establishment of Pakistan. Afghan religious figures, including Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masood, were invited to Pakistan where they were trained by Pakistan military's Special Services Group.
This happened well before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. All those trained religious figures were used as proxies in the war against Soviets in Afghanistan. Several kinds of Afghan groups, such as secular Pashtun nationalists, traditional tribal leaders and religious figures, were ready to resist the Soviet occupation of their country. Pakistan ignored the nationalists and traditional tribal leaders and exclusively supported the Afghan religious forces. The West, which had backed the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, provided military, financial, political and diplomatic assistance to the resistance, but had no physical control over the so-called Afghan Mujahideen. It was only the ISI that exerted the control, including training and flow of funds and weapons to the proxy fighters. It was the time when Pakistani generals, led by dictator Gen Zia, assaulted the Afghan (including Pashtun) identity and Afghan state with their policy of Strategic Depth, an assault that continues to this date in the form of the Taliban.
Hekmatyar and Rabbani with former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
The Strategic Depth is proactive policy to install an indoctrinated Pashtun-dominated Pakistan-controlled government in Afghanistan that disowns Pashtun/Afghan identity and bans any Indian influence in Kabul. The policy also means strengthening Pakistan's ties with the Arab world by cutting the country's cultural roots in Persian and Indian civilizations. This especially includes a systematic tempering with the Pashtun identity to erase the cultural memory of the present and future generations of the Pashtun and replace it with an Arabized identity.
Afghan national identity since the last 1,000 years following the rule of Mahmood of Ghazna (971 -1030) has been strong Afghan Muslim identity, just like the Persian Muslim identity or the Turkish Muslim identity. Both Persians and Turks have thoroughly indigenized Islam. The two nations have firmly evolved peculiar Muslim identities that can be distinctly distinguished from Muslim identities elsewhere in the world, especially the Arab Muslim identity. Over the centuries, the Pashtun did the same with Islam by aligning it with Pashtun traditions and culture.
The military ideologues of the Strategic Depth tempered with the strong Pashtun identity by exaggerating and expanding its Muslim part. They carefully groomed and encouraged the religious extremists and crushed the secular Afghan nationalists who were opposed to Soviet occupation. Above all, they brain washed thousands and thousands of young Afghan refuges in a systematic way in religious schools especially established for the purpose in the refugees camps in Pakistan.
They did not do so out of their love of Islam. If that had been the aim, they would have focused on the universal principles of Islam, such as justice, fair play and public welfare - the principles that can be applied to any society in the world. It was these universal principles of Islam that Bacha Khan Movement was striving to promote in the Pashtun society. Instead, the ideologues of the Strategic Depth indoctrinated young Afghan Pashtun with a narrow, intolerant and violent version of Islam that glorifies a particular archaic version of the Arab tribal culture. The aim was to homogenize the future of Afghanistan by cutting the cultural roots of its people with their history and traditions. In other words the aim was to destroy Afghaniat (Afghanhood), including Pashtun nationalism. One of the Strategic Depth ideologues, Gen (r) Hamid Gul, has said on many occasions that 'Afghanistan is a blank paper and it would look like whatever we write on it'.
I would like to link this point to something not directly related to our discussion on Taliban and Pashtun nationalism, but still relevant. Some friends from Sindh and Baluchistan are reporting that a network of Sunni extremist madrassas (religious schools) is being set up in the two provinces to damage the secular ethno-nationalist Sindhi and Baloch political forces through religious discourse that is also tempering with the ethnic identities. If so, Sindhi and Baloch nationalists should take it very seriously. Their ethnic identities are enriching parts of human heritage, and they must do whatever they can to stop the anti-civilization indoctrination of their youth in the name of Islam.
Coming back to the issue of Taliban and Pashtun nationalism, Pakistani military ideologues began to implement the agenda of Strategic Depth by importing the Afghan Mujahideen parties they had nurtured on the Pakistani soil to Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. These outfits were too artificial to deliver. They fragmented very quickly in the rising tide of civil war in Afghanistan. This time round, the military establishment began to support the Taliban.
Rejecting the various stories about the origins of Taliban, the Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan believe that they were created in 1994 by the Afghan Cell of the ISI led by Major General Aziz Khan. Although retired general Nasirullah Babar boasted of his share in the creation of the Taliban, Gen Aziz remained the 'focal person' for Taliban in the security establishment of Pakistan almost up till 9/11.
Nationalists all over the world are recognized by their actions, conduct and attitudes that concur with their national identity. Let's look at the actions, conduct and attitude of the Taliban. What were their first major steps when they entered Kabul in 1996? They banned the Afghan national flag, Afghan national anthem and Nowroz (Afghan New Year) - a five thousand year old festival. Radio Kabul became 'Voice of Sharia'. Jirga, the most important social institution of Pashtun tribes, was declared anti-Sharia and also banned. The statue of Buddha in Bamian, a symbol of Afghan culture that had remained intact and respected among countless past generations of Afghans, was demolished. Everything that represented Afghan (or Pashtun) national identity was brutally suppressed. Is this the way nationalists treat their national identity? Far from being Pashtun nationalists, the Taliban religiously imposed the Strategic Depth agenda during their rule from 1996 to 2001, destroying Afghan identity and state and making the country a de facto fifth province of Pakistan.
To be continued